Pubdate: Fri, 27 Aug 1999
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 1999 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas
Author: Bob Ray Sanders


The Drug Enforcement Administration and the news media did a grave
disservice to American Airlines and the American people this week.

It is not uncommon for law enforcement agencies to overdramatize criminal
investigations, and it certainly isn't unusual for the media to overplay a
story. But the highly publicized sting operation involving a so-called drug
ring using the facilities of American Airlines and its contractors was bad
police work and poor journalism.

The screaming newspaper headlines and teasers on radio and television about
"dozens arrested" gave us the impression that a major drug operation had
been shut down and that drug lords had been manipulating the country's
airlines and airports.

First of all, the "dozens" indicted were a total of 58, about 30 of them
employees of American Airlines and 11 LSG Sky Chefs workers, a food service

Please note that American has about 116,000 employees, and Sky Chefs
37,000, so the criminal indictment of a few people at any large company
must not be seen as an indictment of a corporation.

Besides, this whole operation is a little shaky from my point of view.

Remember, this was a "sting," and by their very nature, stings stink.

We're told by DEA officials that two years ago an American Airlines pilot
noticed that his coffee "tasted weird," and that it turned out to contain
heroin, packages of which had been smuggled onto the plane.

With American's cooperation, the Justice Department initiated its
investigation, which included setting up a fake drug operation and
soliciting people to smuggle what they believed to be drugs and weapons
onto planes.

Get this picture.

The "drug" dealer in this case is really the U.S. government, and because
agents were afraid of the possibility of `real' drugs being transported,
they used phony ones.

In these kinds of cases, I always wonder how many of those arrested would
have gone about their lives as law-abiding citizens -- doing their jobs --
if agents of their government had not waved money in their faces to entice
them to do otherwise.

I know judges and appeals courts have generally approved of sting
operations, but jurors haven't always been so eager to go along with such
entrapment schemes.

It will be interesting to see how many of the people indicted will be
convicted, especially since the drugs were not real. How can someone
handling something other than drugs be a drug smuggler?

Of course there's always the "conspiracy to smuggle" charge, but even that
sounds flimsy. We'll have to wait and see what else comes from this
well-financed and -publicized investigation.

Perhaps U.S. airlines -- and airports -- can do more to ensure that their
own employees undergo the strictest security checks, but we know that the
companies have worked with federal agencies to intercept contraband and
those doing the smuggling.

American Airlines, for example, spends $15 million a year on a program to
help prevent smuggling.

Part of the DEA's investigation was appropriately labeled Operation Ramp Rats.

A rat is exactly what I smell in this small but overpriced operation.
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